It Wasn’t Just Japanese Americans Who Fell Under Suspicion in World War II. So Did Italian Americans.

tags: FBI, WW II, Yonkers

John N. Romano is an attorney in Yonkers. His own World War II experience was as a member of the First Marine Division, C Company, 1BN, 7th Regiment that served on the front line in China during the Nationalists and Communist Civil War. This article was first published in the Yonkers Historical Society quarterly journal.

Related Link  The FBI’s own history of its role in World War II 

In 1942, the FBI began a program to produce and augment fear, distrust and anxiety in Americans of Italian heritage by searching their apartments at night, arresting them without warrants in daytime, keeping them in custody for questioning and examining the parents of sons who were U.S. Army Air Corps officers.

I was witness to such an action on midnight in 1942 at 52 Maple Street in Yonkers. The incident occurred in a six-family cold water tenement, occupied by approximately five Italian families and one American family. Two FBI agents knocked on our apartment door. My mother, a naturalized citizen, said, “What do you want?”

“We are looking for a transmitter,” they answered.

“What is a transmitter?” my mother asked. They told her, it’s a radio sending messages to an Italian submarine that was in the Hudson River. We have to search your apartment now.” Our denials had no meaning as they recklessly searched our apartment from room to room.

They saw three unoccupied beds and asked, “Who sleeps in those beds?” I answered, “My brother Joe. He’s in the Marine Corps. My brother Anthony. He’s serving in a U.S. submarine. And my brother Pat. He’s serving on a U.S. Navy destroyer.” They all volunteered to serve the country.

It had no impact on them. They looked directly in my eyes, unashamed, aggressive, belligerent and arrogant. Then they left.

They went to the next apartment door and repeated the same abusive questioning with Mrs. Molly Paese who had four sons in the service, and for Mrs. Bove on the second floor who also had four sons in the service. They were effective. They scared the hell out of us all. They made us feel as if we were the enemy. They did not search the “American” family’s apartment.

There were other knocks on the door from the U.S. Government during 1943-1945 in the same house.

Mrs. Paese heard a knock on her door, one that informed her that her son, Sergeant Curly Paese was shot down and killed in Germany.

Mrs. Bove heard a second knock as well, to be informed that her son, Lieutenant Bove, fighter pilot, also was killed overseas.

My mother, Virginia Romano heard three knocks on her door. The first informed her that her son, Corporal Joseph Romano was killed in action. The second knock informed her that her son, Anthony was missing in action; he was eventually found but was totally disabled for the rest of his life. The third knock informed her that Pat was wounded with me today.

The story of these four knocks on Mama’s door remains with me today.

Oh yes, there were other knocks on other doors on Maple Street as well, Mrs. DiResta’s door, Mrs. DiGiacomo’s door, Mrs. Dominick Romano’s door, and many others who were told that their loved ones were killed in action during the War.

The FBI never returned and prohibited its public disclosure by anyone. Our FBI conducted this “Secret War”. The Herald Statesman, the Yonkers Record and other newspapers would not publish this War story of the Seventh Ward. The Yonkers Police Department quietly agreed to all these actions and assigned their toughest officers with billy clubs that were used on many an Italian Americans. Not one political, religious, educational, business or labor leader would speak out against it. The Seventh Ward was in total silence with all the other Americans. If exposed, it would have created a deep morale problem for the many, many Italian Americans in service of the country.¹

Some would say an apology is necessary. Mama would have answered, “We do not want an apology. As an American I forgive you.” We survived this ordeal of persecution, prosecution and punishment because of our belief in God, Country and Family, especially our mothers and fathers.

God Bless America.


¹Men and women of Italian heritage were the largest ethnic group to serve in the American Armed Forces during World War II.

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